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Nanotech experts gear up for conference

January 03, 2008

Leading experts in nanotechnology will participate in a unique conference this winter in Washington, D.C., which is being co-sponsored by the Center for the Study of Law, Science & Technology at the Sandra Day O’Connor College of Law.

Gary Marchant, the center’s executive director and Lincoln Professor of Emerging Technologies, Law & Ethics, has teamed up with other major players in the race to determine how drugs, foods and other manufactured goods produced by nanotechnology should be regulated. Marchant will join more than 30 other speakers from government, industry and academia Feb. 28-29 at the first Conference on Nanotechnology Law, Regulation and Policy.

Other co-sponsors are the Food and Drug Law Institute, the Woodrow Wilson International Center for the Scholars’ Project on Emerging Nanotechnologies and the Burdock Group, a Florida-based consulting firm dealing in safety and regulatory issues in the food and beverage, dietary supplement and cosmetics and care industries.

According to recent projections, nanotechnology was incorporated into more than $50 billion in manufactured goods last year, an estimate that’s expected to grow to $2.6 trillion by 2014. By 2010, industry experts predict, nanotechnology will be used in $20 billion worth of consumer food products, and in more than $15 billion worth of nano-enabled drugs and therapeutic items.

Despite this, nano-specific regulations don’t exist, and most regulatory agencies lack the tools they need to oversee the technology’s explosive growth.

“What has developed are various types of ‘soft law’ approaches involving voluntary programs, reporting provisions and the like,” says Marchant, who also is working with College of Law professors Ken Abbott and Doug Sylvester on a federal grant to develop models for the international regulation of nanotechnology. “Will these develop into more ‘hard law’ approaches or, because the technology continues to move at such a fast pace, would it be better to continue with the ‘soft law’ approach?”

Policy-makers face the challenge of developing flexible regulations that don’t quickly become obsolete, while effectively protecting consumers from potential health and safety risks generated by nanotechnology, he says.

For more information about the conference, visit the Web site or call (800) 956-6923.